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Tag Archive: athletic development

  1. Excelsior ADC Newsletter

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    Excelsior AD Club newsletter March 2019

    We have had so much happen in the last month, and exciting things happening in the run up to Easter, it is best to keep them all in one place. So here you go.

    6 members complete their Athletic Development Coaching Course

    excelsior adc
    Happy young coaches

    Archie, Daisy, Flora, Jakin, Rebecca and Stephanie all completed the 1 day “Athletic Development Coaching Course” in half term.

    This was funded by Teinbridge CVS. They had to complete online learning and assessment and then plan and coach sessions. All 6 were brilliant and did much better than many adults James has tutored.

    Healthy Athlete Workshops

    We have received another grant from Teinbridge CVS to run a series of 3 “Healthy Athlete” workshops.

    This will be in addition to the “Sports Performance Workshops we run in the holidays which are aimed at secondary school pupils looking to help improve their sport (next one is April 10th in Willand).
    I am thinking of doing the healthy athlete for 2 hours in Willand, will include:
    • a guide to making a healthy lunch box
    • what snacks to take to competition/ training
    • how to warm up/ cool down safely.

    This will be for Primary school pupils in years 4-6, this format is flexible, so please make a suggestion. Cost will be £5 for members, £8 for non-members.

    New weight lifting equipment arrives

    weightlifting coach
    New WL equipment

    £2000 of Eleiko weight lifting equipment has arrived from Sweden
    The funding from the People’s Postcode Lottery has bought this top level weight lifting equipment. Thanks to them for funding the club.

    We have had several new members join the weight lifting sessions in the last 2 weeks- and we are starting a new Tuesday morning session for beginners in addition to the Monday and Friday evening sessions.

    We shall host the “Graham Cooper Memorial” competition in Willand on Monday April 8th.

    Spa Discount for Excelsior ADC members

    sports club willand
    Luxury spa offer

    The Thurlestone Hotel and Spa is owned by the Grose family. Mary Grose is an accomplished equestrian who James used to coach.

    She has given us an offer of 10% off all spa treatments and will “look after our members” if you wish to book a night there- speak to her directly. This applies in term time during the week.

    James on BBC Somerset Radio

    athletics club Cullompton

    Finally, those of you that listened have said some nice things about my interview on the radio.

    It was great to talk about the club, my philosophy of coaching for the long term benefit of the athletes, and name dropping a few of our members.


    I set this club up in response to my experiences in International and professional sport. It is my overwhelming desire to offer expertise locally at an affordable price for all.
    I know “You can’t be a prophet in your own village” but thanks to all our members who train every week and to their parents and our volunteers for helping it run.

  2. Excelsior ADC Club Update September 2017


    Autumn Term means new beginnings

    gymnastics wellington

    Gymnasts receiving funds

    School term has resumed which means the end of Summer Athletics and the resumption of gymnastics and weightlifting in Willand and Wellington. Here is a brief synopsis of what is happening.

    Fundraising: we have been short listed from over 700 applicants for the Skipton Grassroots Giving Campaign. In order to gain £500 for the club to buy equipment, please vote here. Every vote counts, so thank you.

    We were also kindly given £450 from Viridor for equipment and £240 from Willand United Charities to subsidise our uniforms.


    Summer training and competition has finished now. The last event was the Exeter Open where we had several personal bests in hurdles, sprints, javelin and 1200m. No long jumpers this time due to conflicting events. Archie Ware won both his events but got listed as an Exeter Harrier by mistake!

    Winter training will resume in October and will consist of technical work and physical preparation for next spring.



    3 of our weightlifters

    Sessions have started back this week after a quiet Summer. We have spaces available on Monday nights for anyone aged 13+ who wishes to learn a new activity and be physically and mentally challenged. Other times are available, including two day time slots. Full details on our weightlifting page.

    Four of our members will be doing their Level 1 coaching course starting in 2 weeks’ time in Willand. Topsy, Sarah, Laura and Zara will then be able to help James coach in the upcoming funded “Love to Lift” sessions which will start in October.


    We ran a volunteer workshop last Friday for the new and existing volunteers who help out at the club. This gives everyone an idea on basic handling, safety and an introduction to good coaching practice. We looked at handstands,  headstands and some beam work.

    gymnastics wellington

    End of a busy day somersaulting

    These workshops are designed to help improve what we do and give confidence to parents that they can get involved and help out.  We have a good mix of parents and Duke of Edinburgh volunteers, without whom we would be unable to operate.

    James attended his first Level 3 technical module in Honiton on Sunday with 3 of our gymnasts. The syllabus included: front, back and side somersaults, with aerials and aerial walkovers.

    We will be able to work towards these skills with our more accomplished gymnasts.

    We have vacancies in Freestyle Gymnastics in Wellington and Willand and still have some spaces left in our Primary gymnastics class in Wellington. All details are on our gymnastics club page

    Thanks to everyone for supporting the club, we are looking forward to improving everything we do to create the best environment for our athletes and coaches.

    We are looking to recruit a new Welfare Officer. If you know anyone who might want to take on this important, (but low workload) role to help the club, please let James know. Would suit a retired person who is willing to attend a 3 hour course (paid for by the club) and have a DBS check.

  3. Why Lego is a symbol of lack of sporting creativity

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    Lego and sports clubs have become sterile environments

    Lego creativity

    Lego from 1970s

    Lego sets used to stimulate children’s (and their parent’s) imaginations. In the 1970s the goal of Lego was to use imagination and explore as you can see in the letter on the right.

    Now, Lego blocks are almost always sold as part of some marketing tie- in with very prescriptive step-by-step instructions.

    Does that sound like any sports coaching you know? If your child is forced to stand in a queue and listen to an adult tell them exactly how to move around cones then how will they adapt to the changing environment of sport?

    Coaches need to be able to set up environments that allow the children to connect the dots rather than just collect dots (coaches read more here).

    My goal when coaching our young athletes is to set up tasks or environments that allow children to develop and learn themselves. This “guided discovery” means I ask them questions, or set them challenges, rather then prescribe specific actions (there are some exceptions).

    guided discovery

    KIds exploring

    This has probably been the biggest change in my coaching in the last 3 years, and something I emphasise regularly on the strength and conditioning courses  we deliver.

    An example is shown on the right where I asked the kids to try and move over their partners in different ways. I am constantly surprised and delighted with how kids respond to this at all different ages.

    Are your kids allowed to be creative, or are they just being told what to do? 

    If you would like to come to our athletic development club sessions, we are based in Willand and Wellington.

  4. Athletic Development Workshop at Christ’s Hospital

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    Athletic Development in action at Christ’s Hospital

    Athletic development workshop

    Lunging and bracing

    Last week I ran 2 workshops for some of the Sports Scholars at Christ’s Hospital School in Horsham, West Sussex. Whilst the title was Athletic Development, the content was all about teaching the pupils about movement.

    Movement is the foundation of physical education (p.e.). So you could just say I taught two p.e. classes.

    The Head of Sport Dave Messenger has previously done a Level 1 Coaching Strength and Conditioning for Sport course with me, as have 8 members of his staff. I shall be back there next month running the course for another 10 coaches.

    squat technique

    Partner work

    Here is the lesson plan for the first half of the Athletic Development Workshop. With the themes.
    Introduction: Why do you train? Sport is an expression of physical ability, it rarely develops it apart from the very beginners and those unfit. Get fit to play sport, rather than play sport to get fit.
    Task1: Skipping, forwards backwards. sideways. With partner count to 4s.
    What sport skills are used? Break down of skills. Try again observing partner foot position (barefoot).

    Christ's Hospital

    Squat practice

    Task 2: Tuck sequence, hold shoulder stand for 3. Rock to stand: with partner.
    How strong are your legs?
    Partner squats
    Exploratory rolls on floor. Squat, roll, stand. explore.

    Task 3: Walking game with chaos. In 3s. Walk around, tag, no tag back. Then skipping, then running 3 steps into space.
    Decision making? Spatial awareness. What happens at the end?

    physical literacy

    Bracing and supporting

    Task 4: Absorbing and receiving force. Walk to brake. Jump up and land quietly. Crawling patterns. Kneel to fall, Partner lean and fall in 3s.
    Partner sequence: cartwheel over, crawl under, hips up and down.

    Thanks to Dave and all his staff and pupils for making me feel welcome and throwing themselves into the workshop with gusto.

    If you would like me to run a similar workshop a your school, please email me to discuss.

  5. How a good coach can help you become a winner

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    Why hiring an expert coach will save you time and money

    Young athletes (and their parents) are overwhelmed with information from varying sources that is often conflicting. It is my job to help them navigate the maelstrom.

    Originally designed as a concept to deal with organising and displaying online information and layouts, information architecture could as easily be applied to coaching.

    “I mean architect as in the creating of systemic, structural, and orderly principles to make something work — the thoughtful making of either artifact, or idea, or policy that informs because it is clear”

    Richard Saul Wurman

    Too much information, too little time

    strength and conditioning coach devonAthletes I work with come home from a Regional or National camp with a sheet of paper and a directive to “do these exercises or else”. They then ask me what a “SLDRDL” or a “One legged Monkey Puzzle” is.

    They go to a p.e. class the next day where they are made to hold a plank position for endless minutes to “strengthen their core”, but not told why or how to improve and if there is any transference to sport.

    Finally, they visit their club where the coach drills them through ladders, hurdles and doggies to finish off their last remaining reserves of energy and enthusiasm.

    The poor parent in the meantime is standing on the sidelines forking out cash and time for kit, petrol and accommodation. Wondering if they are “doing enough” for their child.

    Things can, and need to be, better than this.

    The real problem, (as Atul Gawande says in the current Reith Lectures) is how to use our existing knowledge effectively and consistently, rather than needing to know more.

    Coach as Information Architect

    The job of a good coach is to make sense of all this information, filter out what is noise, but still stay abreast of latest research and developments.

    strength and conditioning coachThat is different from telling all athletes to eat pilchard eggs because one study of 3 Eskimos found that they were able to run faster after eating pilchard eggs for 2 weeks.

    The coach then needs to present this information in an orderly and systemic fashion, rather than all at once.

    This does include selective delivery of information, feeding it to the parents and athletes at regular intervals. This allows positive behaviours to develop.

    3 steps to becoming a winner

    1. jenny mcgeeverFind out what is happening in all aspects of the athlete’s life and write it down. I get the athlete to fill out a 4 week planner that shows all sporting and p.e commitments.
    2. Write down what current exercises are being done and when. Clarify the exact nature of these exercises and make sure the meaning is understood. Any exercise that is written down but has never been coached is binned. Look for duplication of work: hockey might be doing doggies, rugby might be doing 3km runs. Avoid doing both.
    3. Look for gaps between current ability and what is required. Put in exercises accordingly. You might be doing lots of running, but zero postural work. You might be able to hold the plank for 5 minutes (why?) but are unable to stand on one leg with free hip held high: essential for running well.

    The complete picture is often forgotten due to the confusion of information and dealing with the logistics of getting the young athlete to the venues, school and training!

    Hiring an Expert Coach

    strength and conditioning coach somerset

    Life is too short to do everything yourself. Trying to do it all on your own can cause unnecessary stress. If you want to be the best that you can be, then you will need some help along the way.

    The Excelsior Athletic Development Club was started to help parents, coaches and athletes work together.  By informing parents and sports coaches of best practice, we are working together, rather than against each other.

    • It requires coaches of different sports to stop trying to force early specialisation (a difficult task) and to think of next year, rather than next Saturday.
    • It requires parents to take an active role in planning and ask questions of the p.e. teachers and coaches.
    • It requires athletes to think about why they are doing things, and to learn how to organise their time.

    It requires us at Excelsior to continually strive to make sense of this information and develop ways of improving our ability to coach.

    Sign up to our newsletter today to get 2 free ebooks on coaching young athletes.

  6. Getting fit for Archery


    “Whatever’s wrong ain’t the bow and whatever’s right is the archer.”

    archery fitnessFor the last 18 months I have been working alongside the Gloucestershire Archery Society and a number of local clubs as part of the.

    My role has included working directly with the young archers as well as workshops to help educate coaches and parents to apply the key principles for physical development.


    The emphasis of any of these sessions has been the Long term development of the athletes, and developing fundamental movement skills as a foundation on which to build.

    Although Archers rarely have to run fast or lift heavy weights off the floor (despite what a job application for a recent position with high performing archers stated!), there are many physical abilities which are important for successful performance.

    Mandigo et al., 2007 listed a number of fundamental movement skills, many of which can be directly linked to archery including:

    1)      Stability

    • Balancing- maintaining centre of gravity above base of support
    • Stretching-being able to efficiently hold different postures
    • Twisting- rotating parts of upper body/ resisting rotation of torso
    • Pushing- strengthening front shoulder
    • Pulling (drawing)- strengthening rear shoulder during rotation

    2)      Locomotor

    • Walking/Running-important for developing efficient aerobic system
    • Jumping- developing lower body strength and stability
    • Hopping- lower body stability and coordination
    • Skipping- coordination and timing
    • Climbing- increasing upper and lower body strength

    3)      Manipulative

    • Throwing (over and under arm), Catching, Striking
    • All good for improving hand-eye coordination and accuracy

    fit for archeryIt is important to note that fundamental movement skills are the building blocks of sport skills, which is why these movements form the basis of the sessions for all of the archers I have worked with.

    Despite varying broadly in terms of age and training experience, most of the athletes have developed deficiencies in mobility and posture due to the environment they find themselves in either at school hunched over a desk, or by regularly shooting (consistently using uneven posture).

    A lot of emphasis during coach education sessions is on regularly practising exercises which will reinforce good posture, balance, stability and mobility to develop the Structural Integrity of the archers. This could include using exercises during warm ups or encouraging athletes to practice exercises away from training.

    Cooperation in Coaching

    I have been very fortunate to work with some fantastic coaches (Roger Crang, Steph and Dan Gill and Graham Williams to name a few) who have all bought into the need to develop physical skills as well as technical skills.

    The Excelsior athletic development centre was set up to help young athletes by either working with them directly, or by running courses and workshops with the coaches, parents and teachers who are working with them week to week.

    By working together with sports coaches, positive behaviours and habits can be constantly reinforced rather than competing with contradicting messages.

    Click here for the full Archery Guide to Fundamental training

    Matt Durber 

  7. How to get big for rugby


    How Can I get Bigger for Rugby?

    how to get big for rugbyI was working with a group of young players this week- pretty new to physical training.

    I outlined the plan over the next 10-12 weeks. We are going to work on efficiency of movement, becoming more robust and develop your athleticism.
    I then asked what did they think that involved… getting bigger was the immediate response.

    Getting bigger without having a solid foundation of movement (or the 4 pillars) will result in an immediate short term (about 12 weeks) improvement.

    In other words the hypertrophy will take about 12 weeks to take effect and then another 12 weeks can be improved upon as well. So, at the end of nearly 6 months training you will be bigger.

    3 key tips to getting bigger

    1. Lift heavy for longer. Do big lifts, under loads, for some time. Strongman training, deadlifts, squats are all good ways of gaining mass. If it is just pure mass, with little function, then you are best off learning from some of the Strength Training Legends.
    2. Eat well. There is no point eating junk food, you will become obese. Instead eat a well balanced diet that contains lots of natural foods. There are many sources of protein and testosterone that can be found in your normal diet. It is a lot cheaper than buying fat shakes too.
    3. Sleep. It is when you sleep that your body recovers and repairs itself. Most teenage rugby players are not getting enough sleep.

    The Downside

    how to get bigger for rugbyIf your focus is purely on getting bigger, then there are 2 potential downsides:

    Injuries: if you are a rugby player you can look forward to shoulder and hamstring injuries because they are the 2 most common ones, and a season of rehab. Is it any wonder that the RFU injury audit shows an increase in rugby injuries?

    Slow: If you don’t work on the application of strength through a full range of motion, and at speed, then you might end up getting slower as they found in Australia.


    Hypertrophy work– getting bigger- is a goal in itself, but should not be the first thing that young rugby players work on.

    If it is, it will hamper your Athletic Development and your rugby skills.

    Younger players should look to grow up before growing out. You will be getting bigger as you get older.

    Coaches who tell 14 year olds they need to get bigger, are missing the poiut. 

  8. How to start weightlifting pt2


    Beginner’s Guide to Weightlifting?

    Beginner's guide to weightlifting

    Marius Hardiman

    Yesterday I wrote about “what kit do I need to start weightlifting today I shall look at the basic components of the sport in a Beginner’s guide to weightlifting.

    The Excelsior Weightlifting Club has been running for 2 years in Devon, and I shall share some of the things we do every week.

    The main lifts in weightlifting

    The 2 major exercises are the snatch (pictured right) and the clean and jerk.

    The snatch requires the lifter to pick the bar up from the floor and above their head in one quick action. They then have to stand up from this low position until the judges say that the lift is finished.

    It is a very quick action that needs great hip, ankle and shoulder mobility and strength. For beginners, just getting into the starting position is tricky. The back has to act as a lever, so it must be flat and rigid, rather than curved and soft.

    You can see in this video how to get the start of the snatch correct

    and here is Sonny Webster doing it for real

    The second lift comes in 2 parts. The first part is picking the weight up from the floor and onto your shoulders (the clean). The second part is moving the weight from your shoulders to above your head with arms fully locked out (the jerk).

    how to start weightliftingBecause the weight is lifted in 2 distinct movements, with a slight pause in between, heavier weights can be moved than in the snatch.

    In earlier Olympic games, the jerk was performed with both feet staying parallel, but coming out slightly. Then lifters found that splitting the legs to the front and back allowed them to get under the bar more easily and lift more weight (pictured right).

    The clean and jerk is a very demanding exercise that uses nearly every muscle in the body. Because it is done at speed and with heavy loads it is a great way to get fit.

    Care has to be taken though to balance this with your sporting activity. It is very taxing on the mind and nervous system. Too much leads to fatigue and possible overtraining.

    Here is an example of how to prepare for the clean and jerk from Tracy Fober

    and here is the real thing done by Sonny Webster this year

    Whilst these are very impressive lifts from Sonny, rest assured novice lifters, I was training alongside Sonny when he was only 13 and just starting out: he lifted light and safe. he has worked very hard to get where he is today.

    So, that is a brief overview of the two major exercises in “Olympic Weightlifting”. (Weightlifters refer to the sport as weightlifting, outsiders often refer to the lifts as “Olympic lifts” despite only a minority of lifters ever making it to the games!)

    The exercises are technically and physically challenging, which makes them both frustrating and satisfying. The sport is safe when coached well, and dangerous when done without supervision or in the wrong environment.

    We shall be doing lots of supplemental exercises to help prepare the Excelsior lifters physically and mentally. Most of them will be playing other sports, so it is my job to help plan their weekly and monthly training schedules.

    If you found this Beginner’s guide to weightlifting interesting and want to try our the sport and live in Devon or Somerset, please email me here

  9. Young sports people in Oxford get expert support

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    Excelsior Athletic Development Centre comes to Oxfordshire.

    athletic development oxfordEaster saw the first Athlete Support Day of 2014 for Oxfordshire athletes, with 5 different sports represented. 

    We got moving with some gymnastics. This challenged most of the athletes to try something unusual to them. All rose to the challenge, throwing themselves into the movements and having fun. 

    Having warmed up they then paired up to assess one another, they looked at how well an athlete can perform basic movements that are required for all sport, this enabled them to know what to look for and feel how they move themselves. 

    The day consisted of 4 main topics:

    • agility
    • injury management
    • power
    • recovery.

    Agility: specifically the  need to be able to brake before working on acceleration. We need to be able to do this in all directions. Whilst accelerating forwards with no cues is easy, doing it under pressure or having to brake is where most sports people struggle.

    After introducing a reaction cue before the acceleration we quickly found everyone moving backwards to go forwards (the false step) so then addressed this. 

    Having worked hard on agility they spilt into groups and looked at what injuries they know of and how we can manage them if they occur, going through PRICE principles. 

    agility for hockey oxfordPower was the next topic, after discussing how we can improve power we went through building a solid foundation, where we challenged the athletes again to get out of their comfort zone. 

    We finished the day talking about recovery methods and then going through some exercises they could use after training or playing. 

    It was a fantastic group to work with and Matt and I agreed they had all worked well and improved in different areas.

  10. Preparing to win: athlete support day review

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    “If you’re getting into the ring with Mike Tyson, your warm up better be good”.

    fitness training devonWas the message of my first section of the most recent athlete support day in Exeter. We had 21 players from 8 different sports take part.

    The lack of preparation immediately before a match from young sports people constantly needs addressing.

    At the last meeting, my workshop on “how to warm up effectively”  laid the foundations of thought.

    This time round, I got the players to invest time into creating their own warm ups based on the 3 stages of :

    1. General
    2. Related
    3. Specific

    Some got it, others still put in “stuff”. I was trying to make the point that if your warm up is correct, you will be able to put your opponent on the back foot straight away

    Having an individual warm up routine helps you focus on your performance and preparation, rather than getting distracted by what the other person is doing.

    If you are getting into the ring with Tyson, you had better be ready straight away!

    Strength training

    strength training devonI had the difficult job of coaching all these athletes in the gym at once. Some of whom were first timers. I did 2 generic strnegth warm ups with the group, highlighting correct form.

    Then I split them into 7 groups of 3, each performing a sequence of movements based around hinge, squat, push, pull, rotate, and lunge (brace had taken place in the warm up).

    They then either did a body weight exercise, dumbbell exercise or barbell exercise according to age/ stage of training.

    This could have gone horribly wrong, but thanks to the experienced athletes and the help of the coaches watching, it was very effective.

    Flexibility training

    Moving outside to the glorious sunshine, I went over the latest flexibility routines that I have been developing.

    Based on work by Eyal Lederman, I showed the athletes the benfits of moving in sequences, rather than doing static stretches. Chronic poor posture created by slumped sitting positions and desk-bound life is rarely rectified by 5 minutes of stretches a day.

    A lot of flexibility work gets you better at…. flexibility work! This has its place as part of training, and especially in relaxation at the end of the day.

    However, like strength training, I am only interested in how this work applies to the real world. Constant work throughout the day in our daily tasks, plus some free flowing sequences may be better.This was a chance for the athletes to move like dancers and express themselves

    Guest appearance by double Paralympian

    dan james gb goalkeeperThe last section of the day was agility training, leading into decision making and then a small sided invasion game.

    It was great to have Dan James assist on this part. Dan is the goalkeeper for the GB blind football team and has competed at Beijing and London Paralympics.

    Dan answered the youngsters questions about his training (and where he got his kit from!).

    I have coached Dan since 2007 and he talked about how he has evolved as a player and how we have changed and adapted his training. This has come about partly as a result of his development and experience, partly as a result of my development as a coach.

    Everyone who is part of the Excelsior Athletic Development Club benefits from this process. Similarly, what I learn working with junior athletes filters back up to the Senior Internationals.

    Dan then gave some valuable coaching tips during the invasion game: it was great to see everyone expressing their athleticism and competitiveness at the end.


    Thanks again to Exeter University for hosting. Thanks also to Denise Austin (Beach volleyball), James Elkin (badminton) and Christine Farr (netball) for bringing their athletes along. Thanks to all the parents who were taking their children.  “Turn up, try hard, stand tall.”

    The next Support Day is on Wednesday May 28th.

    Any teenager who is playing more than one sport is welcome to come. Please contact James for details.